Unless you live under a rock on a deserted island, chances are you have heard about, considered using, or are moving toward “The Cloud.” It is now a prevalent and unavoidable topic of conversation that has finally made its way from computing industry professionals to the general populace. In the very near future, “The Cloud” will have become just another term in the lexicon of technology that people accept as a part of their daily computer activity, even if they don’t entirely understand it. Much like instant messaging, search engine, the web, and Wi-Fi, the cloud is rapidly becoming as much a part of our daily lives as the bowl of cereal we have to start our day.
So how is it that most people can’t actually explain what the cloud is or where it came from? How can something that is rapidly becoming a standard still be such a vague mystery to most who use it? Rather than wondering how this phenomenon evolved, I thought it might be a great use of this space to explain how the cloud actually came to be. My hope is that by understanding where the cloud came from, the reader can see how it will continue to develop.
The Cloud had very humble beginnings in the 1960’s as a future concept discussed by people like Joseph Licklider and Douglas Parkhill. And while that discussion continued for decades, it was a very slow evolution from concept to proof of concept as developers and futurists were forced to wait for technology to develop a strong foundation upon which the concept could be explored.
Once internet service had begun to invade homes across the world in the 1990’s, the development and deployment of the infrastructure for rapid development of a grid (both electrical and computing) hit terminal velocity, as demand far outweighed supply. For the first time, the intranet / local network architecture employed by large businesses in enclosed environments could be employed on a much bigger open scale. This leap forward led to the birth of global pioneers like VMware and Salesforce who led the way in proliferating concepts such as SaaS (Software as a Service) and Virtualization.
With the success of this new internet model, which allowed individual users to integrate online content from anywhere with their own individual website / digital presence, the cloud was well on its way to becoming the natural evolution of the current model of hardline internet service and data sharing. In 2003, Nicholas Carr began publishing a series of articles and books about the future growth of cloud computing under the banner “IT Doesn’t Matter” where he extrapolated that internet access and use would become a common and accepted commodity like other utilities such as water or electricity.
After that, the dominoes continued to fall quickly. Throughout the decade there was a string of advances including Amazon’s IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) model which laid the foundation for the “pay-for-use” cloud business model, the PaaS (Platform as a Service) model developed by Salesforce via Force.com, and the open source cloud platform created by Eucalyptus. This, in turn, led to market giants such as Google and Gartner taking notice and making sure that everyone else did as well.
Since then, the paradigm has shifted as continuing technological advances have outpaced the ability of both futurists and market experts to predict the next advancement in data storage and sharing. But for the time being, it is comforting to know that we live in an age where a walk through the clouds requires nothing more than sitting at a desk and clicking a mouse.